Alumni Profile: Kevin Callahan, EMBA '05

Author: Angela Sienko

Kevin Callahan, EMBA ’05, is known as a bulldog. His professional experience has led him into a variety of industries, including education, media and communications, marketing, the funeral industry and, finally, medical education. No matter what his calling, Callahan credits his ND experience for helping him elevate a variety of skillsets that have allowed him to succeed in several professional industries. 

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Q: What led you to Notre Dame’s EMBA program?

Kevin Callahan: In the early 2000s, I was working as an independent contract project manager. One day a new client called with an unusual question: "Do you know how your references are describing you?" He asked. Truthfully, I didn't. Obviously I trusted that anyone I listed as a professional reference would put in a good word for me.

The new client asked if I wanted to hear how the reference he just spoke to had described me. Of course I did, and he read it to me:

"The reference stated 'Kevin is a bulldog, he puts his teeth into a problem and doesn’t let go until it is solved!'” my client read. The reference also commented on my weak point, stating “Kevin is a bulldog, he puts his teeth into a problem and doesn’t let go until it is solved. If you don’t want to solve problems don’t hire Kevin!”

Several years later, that description gave rise to my brand, The COO’s Bulldog, which has been attracting attention ever since.

Q: What difference has the EMBA program made in your professional career?

Kevin Callahan: I was fairly frustrated professionally--I felt I had reached a ceiling with regard to what I was able to offer my clients. I was a competent project manager, but my lack of business education was holding me back. Despite 17 years of business experience, my lack of formal business education limited my ability to serve my clients in new and innovative ways.

That's when I began researching MBA programs, in particular executive programs. I come from a Notre Dame family--both of my brothers and a cousin received their undergrad degree from ND, and my uncle, Fr. Charlie Callahan is buried just a couple of rows away from Fr. Ted. It was natural for me to look into the Mendoza College of Business. After speaking to Barry Van Dyke, the director at the time, I knew it was the program for me. Barry was very clear on his desire to have entrepreneurs and small business owners in the EMBA program.

To say that the program was life-changing is a gross understatement. Since I graduated in 2005, I have been able to successfully traverse a number of industries, including education, media and communications, marketing, the funeral industry and finally medical education. I was able to progress rapidly to a series of engagements as an interim COO/CFO for small, growing, entrepreneurial companies, and most recently, acquire a medical education company with a partner.

The common thread that runs through all of these varied engagements, including the acquisition of PeerPoint Medical Education Institute, was the ability to grasp a business model quickly, diagnose the problems that were holding performance back and institute lasting change that brought operations and finance to where they ought to be. Performing this type of analysis and turnaround became possible because of the mental framework of how a business operates that the EMBA program instilled in me (among many other things, I might add!). The three professors who had the biggest impact in my acquiring this framework are John Affleck-Graves, Ken Milani and Jeff Bergstrand.

Q: What was most memorable about your time at Notre Dame?

Kevin Callahan: As I look back on my time at ND, I have to admit that standing in the student section at football games, and in particular, rushing the field after an upset win over Michigan were major highlights. My wife and I love to connect with alumni, both classmates and new friends, at home football games, which we rarely miss. We have also enjoyed reconnecting at reunions. I have also been able to stay in touch and visit with various members of my MBA team, here in Chicago and around the country.